Success has many parents; failure is an orphan. Given that truism, it’s easy to trace the lineage of Baby Mama back to today’s reigning queens of comedy, Tina Fey and Amy Poehler. Take Fey and Poehler out of the equation and Baby Mama is a harmless piece of PG-13 fluffery. Keep them front and center and Baby Mama pops with energy, intelligence and humor.
Fey (former head writer of “Saturday Night Live” and current doyen of “30 Rock”) stars as Kate, a single businesswoman who has traded personal growth for professional success. Pushing the upper limits of her 30s and now named vice president of a Whole Foods-like organic supermarket chain, Kate figures it’s high time she had it all and spawned a child—lack of a life partner be damned. Unwilling to wait the five years or so it would take to adopt, Kate opts for in vitro fertilization. Unfortunately, her uterus isn’t in on the plan, and Kate’s only option is a surrogate mother. She finds one in the form of white trash breeder Angie (Poehler, another “SNL” castmember who popped up recently alongside hubby Will Arnett in Blades of Glory). Angie agrees to keep Kate’s bun in her oven, but an untimely split with her moronic husband (Dax Shepard, appropriately slack-jawed) forces the “baby mama” to move into Kate’s upscale Philadelphia penthouse.
Most of Baby Mama’s humor derives from the Odd Couple-ish clash of lifestyles between uptight urban go-getter Kate and uncouth rural Twinkie-sucker Angie. As the pregnancy progresses, Kate tries to break Angie of her poor diet and bad personal habits, while Angie tries to get Kate to loosen her metaphorical tie just a notch.
Fey and Poehler are both excellent comediennes with well-honed senses of timing. They play beautifully off each other, with Baby Mama’s quick-witted, dialogue-driven script to back them up. The script is provided by Michael McCullers, who helped write the last two Austin Powers movies and spent a couple years in the “SNL” salt mines himself. The plot jumps though a few slightly contrived hoops trying to stretch its simple situation out to a full hour and a half, and the ending is way (way, way) too tidy; but both are pretty much par for the course in this genre.
Doing double duty as director, McCullers doesn’t offer much in the way of visual fireworks, shooting this like a garden variety sitcom. A more assured comedy helmer (Judd Apatow, to name the obvious candidate) might have given the whole affair a bit more oomph. Admittedly, Baby Mama lacks a certain edge. It’s mild, inoffensive and aimed to please mainstream audiences. But, hey, if you want jokes about sex, drugs and poop, there’s always Harold & Kumar Escape From Guantanamo Bay.
The supporting cast is surprisingly strong, with Greg Kinnear on hand to provide Kate a possible love interest, Sigourney Weaver flexing her Working Girl comedy muscles as a ridiculously fertile fertility specialist and Steve Martin scoring his first genuine laughs in a dog’s age as a hippie-dippy corporate mogul.
The draw, though, is the smart, funny and fresh work of Fey and Poehler--both of whom deserve more roles and bigger paychecks in the aftermath of this likable laugher. If it taps into the same sort of receptive audience that Baby Boom did back in ’87, Baby Mama could give birth to a sizable springtime hit.
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